31 December 2016
Last day of one of, if not the, best years of my life! So yesterday after I got off the train, I followed Laura’s instructions and got on the Underground and managed it all by myself! After I got off at Waterloo I had a bit of trouble finding the aquarium [where I was meeting Charlotte, the person I was staying with] but walked right out to the London Eye with Big Ben in the background, wow. While I was waiting I got to take in the London Skyline and had a nice conversation with the doorman of the aquarium. When Charlotte was finished, we headed to her place on the tube. She lives pretty far outside the city so it took a while. We stopped at a fish and chips place on the way home and I got a spring roll (ehh…) and chips (yummy!). It was raining so the walk home was rough but it made for perfect movie watching weather. We watched “Bridget Jones’ Diary”, the quintessential British movie. We had some tea and tea cookies as well. Charlotte is such a sweetheart and the whole day felt really British. I loved it!
On the morning of the 31st, I had the whole morning to explore before I met up with Kasia, another one of my friends from camp. Let me tell you: London on New Year’s Eve, even early in the morning, is absolutely INSANE. There were so many people, and they were ev-er-y-where. I was really overwhelmed at first because on top of that, the city is huge and there’s just so much to see. My original plan for the morning was to see Big Ben and Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the changing of the guard at Buckingham, and the Royal Opera House. I didn’t realize that fitting all that in simply wasn’t possible. I ended up walking by the first three buildings without stopping because of the crazy crowds. I got to the palace about a half hour before the changing of the guard and realized that there was no way I’d be able to see anything, but I waited anyway. When it finally began I was
disappointed that 1. I still couldn’t see anything and 2. The guards were all dressed in their winter (i.e. not red) uniforms. At one point, another girl and I climbed up onto this concrete wall thing to get a better look, which only lasted for a minute before everyone else followed us and then the police yelled at us to get down. After a while I gave up and went to go walk around more. In the area I was in there weren’t many things to see. Well let me explain: there were the “big” attractions and then a bunch of business buildings and stores. I felt like I needed to be at Buckingham or whichever big attraction and not in between them. Maybe this isn’t the truth about the area, but it is certainly how I felt. I walked around a bit and went into Westminster Cathedral before heading back to the palace. When I got there the crowds were cleared and I got to go up to the gate and take a look for myself. Looking back and comparing it to all the other castles/palaces I’ve been to, Buckingham leaves a lot to be desired. I walked through the park perpendicular to the palace with the intention of going to the Royal Opera House before meeting up with Kasia but I’m glad I didn’t.
Once I made my way back to the London Eye, our meeting point, I realized that we should have been more specific about where we were going to meet. We must have spent a half hour looking for each other because the crowds were so crazy. Maybe it’s because I’m a small town girl, but I am still amazed by the sheer amount of people that were there that day!
As with Laura, I was super excited to see Kasia, she was the fourth person I had seen in as many months that I knew from “home”. She loves traveling like me and has a super cool new website Vivant Images that you should totally check out! Anyway, after our reunion we walked down along the South Bank, past some Christmas markets and The Globe. We went out halfway across the “Harry Potter” bridge and then all the way across the Tower Bridge. Most places were closed because the city was setting up for the NYE fireworks but we did find a pop-up bagel shop to stop at for lunch. I had a sesame bagel with mozzarella, greens, sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto and a flat white which is supposedly the equivalent of a café con leche, but it was nowhere near as good.
|Tower of London|
Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling alone, but it’s so nice to have someone who knows where they’re going. Some places are great for getting lost in tiny winding streets, but others, not so much. Kasia was a fantastic guide because not only did she know where she was going but she is also kind of a history buff so I got tons of historical context with my tour. It was so cool seeing things that I learned about in my Modern European History class this fall, though it was a bit confusing at first because I forgot that names of people and places are not the same in English and Spanish. I think that the Tower of London was my favorite even though it was extremely eerie. Even after being in Europe for five months, I am constantly amazed by the amount of history here! It’s crazy to think about the buildings (and ruins) that have been here for hundreds of years!
After our mini-tour we headed to Kasia’s apartment and I met her mom who literally is the sweetest/cutest person ever. I didn’t realized how Polish Kasia is, she’s bilingual and it was really cool listening to her and her mom talk to each other. We had some “milk tea” while her mom cooked us dinner and then some lemon tea with dinner (because Poland, also I drank so much tea that weekend and it was great) which was cheese and potato perogies, a fruit platter, and a couple shots of Polish vodka (with her mom!). We all talked for a bit, mostly about traveling and how parents, understandably, have mixed feelings about their kids traveling. Kasia and I are in the same boat in that we are both very restless and don’t like to sit still. She’s going to Australia in September for a couple years with Charlotte and I think that’s amazing…I want to join them!
|NYE on the tube|
After we were done eating and chatting we headed back over to Charlotte’s house to get ready to go out. Getting ready, per usual, was one of the best parts of the night-we drank, ate chocolate, talked about traveling, and listened to music. Once we decided that we should probably get going so we didn’t miss midnight, we headed to the underground. Since Charlotte lives so far out the tube was pretty much empty when we got on. Kasia and I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to run up and down the car dancing around and swinging on the poles. When a group of people finally got on, the made fun of us for a bit but soon joined in and there was lots of laughing and photo session. When we got off the tube, we had about an hour until midnight, so of course we dramatically ran through the streets of London to the bar we were going to like we had someone important waiting for us there. The bar was owned by a friend of a friend of Kasia and NYE was their opening party. Honestly, none of us were very impressed by it. We stayed until midnight and attempted, with Kasia’s Spanish friend, to eat the traditional 12 grapes on the each strike of the clock…it didn’t work out very well. We left shortly after that and when we decided that we weren’t about to pay 20 pounds to get into a club or party we went and got some pizza and “garlic knots”. The tube ride back was fun because Kasia and I spent the entire trip singing, or attempting to sing, the songs we learned at camp this summer. I’m sure our audience loved us. I was honestly impressed with how much we remembered. Also shout out to Charlotte for being such a trooper. When we got back to the house we stayed up trying to remember how one song in particular started, even resorting to Google and Youtube but to no avail. After we gave up I went to shower and by some magical force remembered that the “river song” started “I went down to the river, brought me a sandwich”…
The next morning Kasia and I took our sweet time getting up and ready. We packed up and went back to her apartment for some tea and to buy my coach ticket to the airport. We left her house around 2 and walked around Camden Town, which is where she lives. It’s a really cool part of London and I know that I wouldn’t have made it there if I was traveling on my own. It’s super hipster and trendy but it attracts a lot of tourist these days. I wonder how much the internet affects growing tourism in the “hidden gems” of the world and how much is just “natural”. There were tons of cool shops and street art. I was really surprised by the amount of canals; I don’t think canals when I think London. We ended up having lunch at this cute place called Café Loren. We got sandwiches but they had this really cool sounding Middle Eastern dish that I want to try when I go back. After that I took my first double-decker bus and we did some more exploring. We went to this really cool/colorful/artsy/earthy area before we made our way to Covent Garden. I absolutely loved the Opera House, but I had no idea how expansive Covent Garden is. I could have spent all afternoon there at the cafes, listening to music, looking at art…it was beautiful. After that we went to Chinatown, which I was told has terrible Chinese food but very good secret bars, and Picadilly Circus. They were cool, but too many people for me. We also went into Hamley's which is the biggest toy store in Europe, but apart from the high quality stuffed animals, I was not super impressed. For dinner we want to Wagamama, a Japanese restaurant. I got a rice bowl with veggies and tofu and it was divine. I was pretty impressed with myself for using chopsticks instead of a fork. The meal came with green tea instead of water which I think is good because when you mix the strongly flavored food with the almost harsh taste of water it is not good. I was SO full after. As we started making our way back to Camden we stopped in the National Portrait Gallery which was super cool, especially this one painting that looks very distorted when viewed from the front but normal when viewed from an angle. It was painted for a child in the royal family. We walked past a bunch of really pretty/cute/expensive houses and then Kasia took me up Primrose Hill. It was a bit of a climb but she had me close my eyes on the way up so she could surprise me with the view. It was amazing. Breathtaking. Indescribable. It was the perfect panorama of the London skyline in all its sparkling glory. I of course attempted to take a picture, which turned out terribly so I just took it in and I hope that my memory doesn’t ever fail me! Kasia told me that one time she and her friends took a picnic up to watch the sunset and then ended up staying there until sunrise. I’m sure many a proposal happened there. On the way back to her house we walked by a bunch of cute shops that were all lit up with Christmas lights. I imagine that’s what a little English town would look like.
Just as a side note: I think this year I’ve really come to appreciate Christmas as a season that extends past the 25th, I was still feeling very Christmasy then, and normally I’m done by the morning of the 26th or even the night of the 25th. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a “definitive” Christmas moment this year? I don’t know but I could really get behind the whole “Christmas is good family, friends, and food” thing.
Anyway, back at Kasia’s we watched “The Holiday”, which is now one of my favorite movies and had tea and snacks, including chocolate covered plums. I had to catch a bus to Victoria Station around 11:30 and then a bus to Gatwick at 12:30. My flight to Munich was at 6am but the 12:30 was the last bus that night. Though it didn’t rank high on my list before I got there, I absolutely loved my time in London and did not want to leave. That was the first time I regretted planning ahead so much, I could have spent my entire break there. In retrospect, I’m glad I did move on though because there were many more adventures to be had!